Olympic champion Canada returns to action Friday for the first time since a disappointing showing at the FIFA Women's World Cup, facing Jamaica in a two-legged playoff to determine the last CONCACAF entry in the 12-county field for the 2024 Paris Games.
After a camp in Florida, the Canadians arrived in Jamaica on Thursday on the eve of what is expected to be a hot and humid series opener at the National Stadium in Kingston. The rematch is Tuesday at Toronto's BMO Field.
Canada coach Bev Priestman says while the team has not forgotten the disappointment of failing to get out of the group stage at the World Cup, the players are looking forward to playing again.
"It's still in the pit of your stomach. You feel it," she said of the World Cup. "But I think, and I've said it, you're at your most dangerous when you come off the back of a disappointment. Because I'd like to think that this group is hungrier than it has been for a while because of such a big setback."
Defender Sydney Collins, a relative newcomer to the squad, says the Canadian women are looking forward, not back.
"I think everybody's really excited to get the opportunity to step on the field and prove ourselves again," said the 24-year-old Collins, who won her first cap off the bench in April in a 2-1 loss to France in Le Mans. "And just resetting from the World Cup. I think we have a really good energy about the group coming together and trying to move forward."
Canada and Jamaica were paired in the Olympic playoff after finishing second and third, respectively, at the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico in July 2022.
The U.S. qualified directly for the Olympics by defeating Canada 1-0 in the CONCACAF W Championship final. Jamaica, which lost 3-0 to Canada in the semifinal, defeated Costa Rica 1-0 after extra time in the third-place playoff.
Canada has won all nine previous meetings with Jamaica, outscoring the Reggae Girlz 60-1. But the Jamaicans lasted longer at the recent World Cup, reaching the round of 16 where they were edged 1-0 by Colombia.
They were the first Caribbean country to qualify for a Women’s World Cup knockout round.
"They're a different team than the old Jamaica," said Priestman.
Jamaica is led by Khadija (Bunny) Shaw, a Manchester City forward who is a nominee for the Ballon d'Or.
"We've got to respect what they did in this World Cup and they'll be riding a high from that," Priestman said.
Canada exited the World Cup after tying Nigeria 0-0, edging Ireland 2-1 and losing 4-0 to co-host Australia. They finished 21st at the 32-team tournament, compared to 13th for Jamaica.
The Canadians subsequently fell to 10th from seventh in the world rankings. Jamaica rose six places to No. 37 after beating Panama 1-0 and tying France and Brazil 0-0 to finish runner-up in its World Cup group.
Collins, who was not on the World Cup roster, was selected by the North Carolina Courage in the first round (eighth overall) of the 2023 NWSL draft out of Cal.
Collins made her NWSL debut April 1 off the bench in a 3-1 loss at the San Diego Wave after being among the subs for the season opener against Kansas City. She had her first start Sept. 2 in a 3-3 tie with visiting NJ/NY Gotham City at fullback.
Comfortable on the ball, she has no problem moving up the field and can find a teammate with a pass. She also reads the play well.
"I'm super-excited about Sydney and what her potential is," said Priestman. "She can play centre back, she can play fullback. She's fit, she's quick … When she's been in with us, she's been super-impressive."
A native of Beaverton, Ore., who holds dual Canadian-U. S. citizenship, Collins spent time with the U.S. under-17 and under-23 teams before joining Canada. Her ties north of the border paid dividends after she included her Canadian citizenship in the paperwork to enter the NWSL draft.
"I think I always had it in the back of my mind that this could be a really cool opportunity," Collins said. "But we were just waiting for it all to piece itself together and was fortunate that happened right after the draft."
"It was an easy choice," she added.
The three-time captain at Cal was first brought into the Canada camp ahead of the SheBelieves Cup in February. She did not make the final roster, listed instead as a training player. But Priestman brought her back for the camp in France and now the Olympic playoff.
She comes from a sporting family.
Collins' American-born father Brett played three seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams before coming to the CFL. Toronto-born mother Susan played volleyball on the Canadian Labatt Blue Pro Beach Tour.
Brett was taken in the 12th round of the 1992 NFL draft (314th overall) by the Packers out of the University of Washington. A linebacker, he finished out his career in 1995 in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts.
The Canadian roster has gone through some changes since first announced.
Defender Jayde Riviere and forward Deanne Rose missed the Florida camp due to injury with 16-year-old Annabelle Chukwu, a Canadian youth international, added to the squad.
Veteran forward Janine Beckie, who tore the torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in March in a Portland Thorns pre-season game, returned to the team "for integration purposes" as she continues her rehab. While Beckie did not make the trip from Florida to Jamaica, she will rejoin the team in Toronto.
Forward Adriana Leon, who signed with England's Aston Villa recently, is in line to win her 100th cap Friday.
Like Canada, the Jamaicans have had to deal with financial constraints of late. But there was positive news this week with the Jamaica Olympic Association, in collaboration with the Jamaica Football Federation and the Bob Marley Foundation, pledging 25 million Jamaican dollars (C$217,280) to the Reggae Girlz to help fund the Olympic qualifying campaign.
Some 10 million of that (C$86,910) will go towards team compensation and bonuses.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2023,
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press